Businesses Charge Hundreds To Remove Mug Shots Online

Kenneth B. Nunn, law professor at the University of Florida's Fredric G. Levin College of Law, said the mug shot sites look like "a seedy business," but, at least in Florida, the arrest photos are freely available under open records laws.

"There's nothing wrong with posting these further," he said.

But there may be a problem with accepting money to take these down, he said.

"First, it's close to extortion, although not quite because there is not a threat to harm reputation, but to improve it," he said. "Second, it's fraudulent in the sense that there is little value in paying to have the mugshots removed from the commercial site when they can be googled on a sheriff's department website. Some jurisdictions think shaming is good crime justice policy, so little opposition there."

Tyronne Jacques, owner of and author of How to Fight Google and Win, published in 2010 with Raegan Publishing, said sheriff's departments could put a stop to these businesses if they banned people from republishing the information for a profit.

"I make money removing information from these sites by any means I can," he said. "I am entitled to make a dollar in the free enterprise system."

Jacques said an article from Wired Magazine about commercial mug shot sites published in August is "single-handedly responsible for making this worse."

"Wired inspired a lot of teenagers to own mug shot websites. Any teenager can come up with script to crawl sheriffs' websites," he said.

According to Jacques, some of these sites use profiling to target those who may be most willing to pay up to remove their mug shots online.

"There's a perception that white, blonde women will pay to remove their pictures," he said, "Especially with a DUI, they make it on the sites all the time."

Jacques said repeat criminal offenders or those on probation do not appear to be as targeted.

Kip Judice, captain at the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office in Louisiana, said arrests and mug shots are public information for the public good, though he would not support "personally or professionally" sites that use profiling to target those who have been arrested.

His sheriff's office has posted mug shots online since 2006.

"I think it arms people with more information, which is always a good thing. If that information is taken in a good common sense manner to know your neighbor has done something you may be able to do something to better protect yourself," he said. "Certainly we would like to provide you with information to strengthen you with your own security needs to make you less likely to become a victim."

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